Thursday, November 13, 2014

Working Minimally

Over the past month I have made a concerted effort to move to a mobile centric approach for personal productivity.  This was partially incited through work requirements as well as a desire to leverage my Android devices more fully.

One of the biggest steps towards making this happen was the addition of my Targus K810 Bluetooth keyboard.  Supporting three Bluetooth channels on one keyboard, all accessible through hotkey, and adding a comfortable, backlit keyboard in a compact and portable format has made this a linchpin in my mobile setup.

If you're considering making a strong move into mobile productivity or just want to get more from your devices, I suggest looking into a Bluetooth keyboard to accomplish more than two thumbs can handle.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Five Ways to be Productive without a Smartphone

Smartphones are part of our daily lives.  There's no way to restate or retract that statement.  If you're in a public place, try this experiment:  look around and count the number of tops of heads you can see on people.  Now unless you're looking down from above you shouldn't be able to see many, right?  But I'm willing to wager you can see a fair number, more than you ever could have five years ago.  It's the heads down focus of the smartphone user that has become so prevalent today.

Now let me be clear.  I've been using mobile tech since before mobile tech was mainstream (yes, very hipster of me but also very true) so I am a staunch advocate for the benefits that can come from using mobile tech.  There are times when being offline, by choice or not, comes into play and we need to continue being productive without our digital man Friday.

Here are my top five ways to be productive in cases when you fear you may be unable to use your technology:

1.  Notebooks

Paper doesn't get blocked, lose signal, or run out of power.  We've trusted it for thousands of years and I'm willing to suggest we will continue to do so.  If you think you are at risk of being disconnected, take time to jot down critical information such as contact names and numbers, meeting agendas, and other vital information for an event or meeting.  Even if you never crack open the notebook, just the confidence gained from having the information available can be highly reassuring.

2.  Redundancy

Using cloud based systems with web accessible interfaces can keep you from being completely disconnected when out and about.  Even if you need to borrow someone else's device or use a public terminal, your information is still ready for you when you need it.

3.  Images and glue sticks

What?  Are we in grade school now?  Well, there's a handy trick from our younger friends that can be very productive.  If you check in your favorite office supply store you'll find a thing called a repositionable glue stick.  This is one where the adhesive is not permanent, but rather allows you to turn anything into a post-it note.  Now while you're out and about you can combine this with #1 to attach receipts, business cards, and other papers into your notebook for later reference.  Before going out you can print screenshots of critical information or crop down sections of pages for posting into your notebook for reference.  If you decide you don't need something or you're finished with it, just peel it out.  It's that easy.

4.  Google Voice

Ok, now this was supposed to be about NOT having access to tech.  This is a little trick I learned one day when my phone battery died and I needed to return a work phone call from a friend's phone.  By leveraging Google Voice and calling my own number I was able to make an outgoing call that showed my business number rather than my friend's phone number.  Task accomplished and no loss of image.

5.  Notebooks

Yes, I know I listed that before.  But notebooks are so helpful they warrant two places on the list.  If you define stage gate processes (SGP) that include capture and processing of information, notebooks can be the quickest method of capture around.  Couple them with systems such as Evernote or OneNote, and when you get back to your technology you'll not only be ahead of the curve, but you'll also have the redundancy I listed in item #2.

There are other ways to continue being productive without a smartphone, but following these might just give you the head start you need the next time you're not spending time looking down at your little companion.

Photo credit: JefferyTurner / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Managing Ideas with Stage Gate Processes

In the business space so many organizations struggle with how to take new ideas from their teams and turn them into actionable plans to benefit the organizations and their customers. Vendors are happy to claim to have the next great solution to the process of idea management, but I suggest these tools are not necessary if you take a simple series of steps to implement a stage gate process to handle receiving new ideas as well as evaluating them prior to developing an implementation plan.
Ideas happen anywhere.  The best ones often happen at the least expected moments...and unfortunately are often lost just as quickly.  If you're looking to gather those diamonds of wisdom and insight, the first stage gate in your process needs to be a way to capture those ideas.  
This is a point where determining a good idea from a bad idea is irrelevant.  Capture and move on.  The question arises though, "don't I need some sort of ideation solution for this to be efficient?"  Nope.  If you've defined your stage gates properly, all that tool will do is restrict rather than encourage new ideas.  
This is when the stage gates come into their own.  Each idea needs to be evaluated on it's own merits, in comparison to other ideas, and to the greater strategic goals driving the organization.  Some SGP (stage gate processes) count on voting, scoring, and gamification.  All these methods have their value, but personally I have never seen one rise head and shoulders above the others.
Spending time with a good business process consultant or with your team as a whole can help you define the criteria ideas need to be evaluated upon in your organization.  Whatever the process you define, test, test, and then test again.  Nothing can kill an idea creation process faster than the people contributing to it losing faith.
This is the part most SGP fail to take into consideration.  Once a person has submitted an idea, so often it disappears into the "black box" of ideas and they never hear anything back on their submission.  What may be an extended evaluation process can come across as apathy towards new ideas without feedback on status and evaluation.  Defining how you keep your idea creators as part of the idea process can make or break the life span of your solution.
There are a number of additional factors needing consideration in an idea processing solution, but take one thing as a rule right now:  new ideas are the lifeblood of any successful organization.  Whether innovative or evolutionary, without new ideas organizations will stagnate and fail.  Find ways to make your organization a fertile place for new ideas.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Personal TIP - Create a low effort shopping list

Grocery shopping is one of those necessary evils of the world.  Some people enjoy it, others not so much.  In either case for a shopping trip to be productive some planning in advance can make all the difference.  I've been working with the Kanban style tools as of late and the application Trello has provided some interesting opportunities to deal with the various process and planning challenges that arrive personally and professionally for us.

Grocery Planning

Image 1 - Items
To keep finances under control most experts recommend putting together a list of the items you plan to get and sticking to it, avoiding the impulse buy.  Using Trello lists you can create a master list of the items you purchase frequently, growing the list as new items become staples and editing as products change.

This screenshot is from an Android phone, so depending on your device the images may vary for you.  You can see that the listing of items that I normally purchase isn't complicated, but it can be if you would like it to be.

As you add an item, you can add into the description specific things about each item such as specific brands, amounts, specials, etc. all in the description section of the card.

Image 2 - Things to Get
When you're ready to plan for your shopping trip, just take each item you need to get (perhaps when you're checking the pantry or when you daughter comes up and says we're out of ice cream...again) and drag it from the Items list to the Things to Get list.  The idea is to have the Things to Get list be the one you count on when you go into the grocery store. 

Because these lists can be shared between devices and people, you can add new items from your desktop, tablet, or even have others in your household add and remove items as needed.  Keeping your family members on the same page this way is a great option to get the most from each shopping trip.

Image 3 - In Cart
As you shop, drag items from the Things to Get list to the In Cart list.  This way you know what you have found and what you need to find later.

If you should succumb to the impulse purchase, just add a card to the In Cart list.  It will come in handy later when it comes to future planning.

After you have checked out, gotten home, and put all the groceries away, drag all the items from the In Cart list BACK TO the Items list.  The reason for this is simple.  Since you bought them once, the odds are good you'll want to buy them again in the future so why have to recreate the card?

This type of stage gate processing that works so well in business and professionally translates well to personal life.  So often we mistake tasks as being binary; done or not done.  Rarely is that case true though.  More often than not tasks are a matter of sequences, events, and follow up as you work each on to completion.  Relying on stage gate style systems can facilitate your success, simplify your tracking, and just make things easier.

If you're interested in learning more about how to turn your personal, professional, and business processes into stage gate systems, drop me a line in the comments or email me at and we'll get you moving through the gates to success!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Using Trello to Manage Blogging

I do enjoy blogging. Really I do. The problem seems to arise with having to blog on a schedule. As much as I would like to just write when the mood strikes me, to paraphrase Gurney Halleck from Dune, "Mood? What has mood to do with it? You blog when the necessity arises — no matter the mood! Mood's a thing for cattle or making love or playing the baliset. It's not for blogging."

In order to keep my newly invigorated writing on task, I'm applying my considerable business process background to the challenge and configuring a system to assist with the tracking and execution of blog articles on a consistent schedule.  Since I'm a "reformed project manager" (as I care to identify myself often) I turned to a style of tool with which I am quite familiar...the Kanban board.  One of the best implementations of a Kanban board I have found to date is the web application, Trello.

To begin, I created a board in Trello specifically for tracking my article ideas and acting upon them. This requires five lists for the cards on the board:

The five lists I use for publishing

The five lists cover article ideas, drafts, editing, publishing, and metrics tracking for follow up.  Any new idea is first created as a card on the New Ideas list.  When the new idea is captured, a label is applied to indicate where the article will be released.  Note this isn't for social media sharing but rather the actual home of the article.  (I write for LinkedIn as well as The Idea Pump so it is important to put the right content in the right places.)

Assign a tag for tracking

When work begins on the draft of an article, I just drag the article card from the New Ideas list to the Drafts list.

Drag from New Ideas to Draft

Since one of the important parts of consistent content production is the adherence to an editorial calendar, I assign the due date for the next list to the article card for tracking purposes.

Adding a due date to a card

By following this process I should be able to move articles through on a timely manner and keep my content production schedule moving smoothly.  Only time will tell...

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

How Important is Gear to Productivity?

One of the favorite topics discussed when you get a group of productivity minded people together is what gear are they using to stay productive.  For some, the term "gear" translates into software, for some it's hardware, for others it's notebooks, pens, and pencils, and if you're like me it's all of the above.

Gear is one of those things that can be a mixed blessing in your system.  Find the right piece of gear and you can raise your level of productivity significantly.  Spend too much time on the quest for the right piece and your productivity suffers.  What's a productivity geek to do?  My suggestion:  look at the hunt as a business process.

Here at The Idea Pump one of the main focuses is on defining and improving business operational processes.  If you look at your quest for productivity gear as a process improvement exercise then by starting with identifications of the deficiencies in your process and identifying the gear available to offset those issues is an excellent starting place.

I'd be hypocritical though if I left you with the impression that my quest for "prodgear" was purely a business exercise.  I'll readily admit (as will my wife) that I enjoy it.  A new notebook, pen, app, or tool can capture my attention quickly and wind up as part of my collection just as rapidly.  It's nearly September and back-to-school, while not only a focus for my children, means I have a viable excuse to look at all the new tools and gear available.  While it's not an addiction, it's pretty close.  :)

Where do you find yourself on the productivity gear spectrum?  Do you grab whatever is available and make it work or do you enjoy the hunt as much as the application?  Share your thoughts in the comments below!  

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

How To Manage All Your Ideas

This is a guest post by Bojan Dordevic from @AlphaEfficiency magazine. Enjoy!

As an avid Idea Pump reader, I am pretty certain that you are awesome at creating and collecting ideas. When I’ve started actively blogging 5 years ago, I was diligent at collecting them. At any given moment, I would have an awesome thing pop up to my mind, and I’d write it down somewhere, on a piece of paper, or in a new text file. At first, I didn’t have “one place” for all my ideas, and they would end up on napkins, or in numerous notebooks and God knows where.

Than I wished that I could be more organized at it, and I’ve started exploring the software that could help me to get to a place where I will have all ideas in one place. As I’ve been collecting them, the list started growing on daily basis. Once you start having a lot of great ideas, you get on a roll. And it made me wonder...

Can you have too many ideas?

When you get such a huge number of ideas, it becomes quite difficult to tackle all of them. When there is too much choice, we get stuck in choice paralysis. This phenomena is famous amongst marketers, and it describes the problem, that people simply won’t buy the products, when they are faced with too many choices.

The less choices we put in front of the consumer, the higher the chances that he will buy.

So yes, there is such a thing as “too many ideas”! Let’s see how marketers described this phenomena:

...the very act of making a choice from an excessive number of options might result in 'choice overload', in turn lessening the motivation to choose and in some cases resulting in failure to choose at all.

Having too many ideas concentrated in one place feels like an email overload. As you see, having too many options available at once can make us procrastinate. All the diligent creatives encounter this issue sooner or later. There are too many ideas, and the choice on what to work on can become a reason to procrastinate.

How To Solve The Idea Clutter?

All our ideas need to have their natural place in our mind, and our system. As our minds are designed for creating ideas, and not actually storing them, we are faced with this dual nature of idea. It’s birth is in the mind, but it needs to have its physical counterpart in order to survive the death by forgetting.

If you use simple note taking software, and use a tag, or a single list, you will be faced with the chaos of long lists. These long lists are already plaguing our email inboxes and task managers, which lead us to this paralysis of choice, contributing to the “Real Productivity Problem That No Task Manager Will Solve”.

To counter long lists, I suggest you break your ideas into organic, flexible hierarchies. When you deal with smaller chunks that you can isolate and focus on, you won’t be cluttered with unnecessary ideas. If you limit the branches up to 10 items, you will avoid the potential to procrastinate, and you will have easier time to start working.

Mike Vardy talks about this in his “Productivityst Workbook” in section about “Idea Management”. He calls it a “Creation Idea Buckets”. Pretty thorough guide on how to cultivate and grow your ideas, and I highly recommend it.

Why are ideas so critical?

Nurturing your ideas leads to significant change in your life. Whether you are a writer or an entrepreneur, having clarity of what your desires are, and how they connect with each other, will give you a clear life guide, that you create completely by yourself.

My ideas have led me far in life, and enabled me to have a complete accomplishment of my dreams. Having strong ideas, not forgetting them, and making tough decisions on the ones that I need to abandon was a part of this process. Stick to your ideas, and turn them into a reality.

Productivity blogger at @Centask and senior editor of @AlphaEfficiency Magazine. Loves to write about all things productive and share great ideas.

Bojan Dordevic (g+ url)